Ty Swenson
Jeremy Higgins (left) teaches chess to children and teens at the High Point Library of West Seattle every Tuesday afternoon. At right, Higgin's daughter Pixie challenges her friend Rory Moriarty (far right) to a battle of the minds.

Inspired by his children’s love for chess, West Seattle dad shares the game with others

Sometimes parents’ hobbies become their kids’. Other times, the situation flips.

For 42-year-old West Seattle resident and father of two Jeremy Higgins, the latter took place, and the interest was chess. Today, Higgins is sharing his passion for the game with children and teenagers at the High Point Library on Tuesdays, as part of the Checkmate: Drop by for a Game of Chess program recently started.

Every Tuesday around 4 p.m., an ever-fluctuating group of kids stop by the High Point Library in West Seattle to play a game created (as historians suggest) somewhere in the Middle East in the 6th Century, foregoing video games and smartphone apps for the ancient battle of minds. Higgins is there to teach them the basic moves, stategies, chess notation (so they can save a game and come back to it), and the history of incredible games from the game’s storied past. He encourages parents to join their kids, so they can learn a little and carry on the tradition at home.

“There is a stigma sometimes with chess,” he said. “Adults are afraid of it in many cases, they have a little bit of a ‘Wait, I don’t think I can do that’ (mentality).”

Higgins said the stigma is reinforced in movies and TV, and kids sometimes think the game is reserved for prodigies only. He disagrees, and believes the game is accessible to anyone who can do basic math.

Higgins, a kindergarten teacher by trade and stay-at-home-dad in practice who just finished a 10-year stint at the Pacific Science Center “blowing stuff up and teaching in the planetarium,” said his son started playing chess in the 3rd grade, about six years back.

His son quickly got into it, which encouraged Higgins to learn the game so he could help develop his son’s interest. It has now become a family tradition, with his daughter Pixie (now in the 2nd grade at Schmitz Elementary), joining dad for the Tuesday sessions at High Point. Pixie started playing in preschool, she said, and the practice has paid off. At least year’s state tournament for 1st graders, Pixie placed 5th, earning her the top finish for girls in the entire competition.

While he describes himself as “still not a very good chess player,” Higgins is teaching chess to gradeschoolers at Schmitz Park and Lafayette Elementary in addition to the High Point

“It’s changed the way I understand learning and teaching in a good way,” he said. “Chess sort of encapsulates the learning process as I see it. If you are learning chess, the first thing you learn is how the pieces move and then that really occupies a lot of your brain and you are full of trying to remember how pieces move. But then, pretty soon, that space shrinks down to just a piece of information to where how the pieces move is just one thing, and then you start to be able to add more and more.”

Nine-year-old Rory Moriarty and her mom Sean stopped by for a game on Oct. 23, and mom explained that Rory picked up the game during a family vacation to Zion National Park when she was five. Dad showed her how to play and she’s never looked back.

Pixie and Rory sat down for an epic match in the center of the library’s multipurpose room, and as they effortlessly employed their strategies with rooks and queens and knights and kings jumping about the board, I asked why they liked chess.

“Because it’s fun,” Pixie said, followed by Rory’s “It’s just fun.” It was apparent (and understandable) they were far more interested in the game at hand than answering some pesky reporter’s questions.

Chess Tuesdays at the High Point Library are open to everyone. For more information, stop by the library or visit their information page online.

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